Public works prepares for my town's largest annual event two weeks ahead of time, hanging banners and flags, and prepositioning sawhorses and barricades. Photo: Suburban Life Publications

In a recent public-opinion poll, one-third of Americans say they don't get their money's worth in local-government services. Another one-third describes the quality of life in their town as fair or poor.

As this issue went to press I celebrated an annual tradition by cooking my siblings and their children breakfast before attending my town's 63rd “Pet Parade.” Hundreds of kids dress up their dogs, cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, pythons, parrots, ponies, turtles — and themselves — to compete for pizza parties and cash prizes of up to $500. This year's theme was “Stars on Parade,” as you see from the Star Wars fans pictured here with their dog, Chewbacca.

They're not supposed to, but participants toss candy (Tootsie Rolls and bubble gum were big this year) and trinkets and pass out leaflets to the onlookers who line the town's main street, laughing and gawking. It's better than Halloween because the candy comes directly to you, and you don't have to dress up.

So you can imagine the mess on the streets, sidewalks, and plantings; the public parking garage and alleys when it's all over.

But having done this for a few years, my town's public works department has its cleanup effort down to what Director Ryan Gillingham terms “one big sweep” of man and machinery. Crews watch the parade from pickup trucks stationed at various points along the route. As soon as the last float begins marching, workers with blowers start picking up and discarding large debris, and emptying trash cans as necessary. Having coordinated with police to block traffic, the department temporarily boosts its fleet of street sweepers by borrowing a unit and its operator from a neighboring suburb.

Within half an hour — 15 minutes, sometimes — you'd never know there'd been a parade.

This fundraising bonanza lures thousands of people into a central business district that boasts Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Japanese, and Spanish restaurants; a Trader Joe's and Borders Books; gift shops, clothing boutiques, appliance showrooms, and housewares stores; and two ice-cream parlors. The La Grange Business Association estimates that 68 cents of every dollar spent in one of these establishments “comes directly back to the community.”

Because the parade takes place on a Saturday, the department does log some overtime to deliver its top-notch parade cleanup service. To me, though, that's a small price to pay for the picturesque and clean community in which residents, visitors, and business owners conduct the revenue-generating transactions that follow.